daniel coyle guitar practice

[Quote] Daniel Coyle on the “Sweet Spot” in Guitar Practice

Tuesday Quotes are short explorations of music, life, and the daily endeavor of practicing classical guitar. Enjoy!]


“The sweet spot: that productive, uncomfortable terrain located just beyond our current abilities, where our reach exceeds our grasp. Deep practice is not simply about struggling; it’s about seeking a particular struggle, which involves a cycle of distinct actions.”

Daniel Coyle


Mountains of research now show how to learn music effectively. We need our practice to be hard, but not too hard.

In his book, The Talent Code, Daniel Coyle names a key ingredient to the learning “sweet spot”. The key is “uncomfortable”.

In our practice, we need to constantly search for that zone just beyond our current abilities.

If we push too far, we become disillusioned and frustrated. If we don’t push far enough, we become bored and frustrated.

So how do we find this “sweet spot”? And how do we know when we’re there?

To answer these questions, we need to find clarity in our current task. Whatever we’re practicing in the moment, we need to know exactly what we’re trying to do.

For each step forward in speed, cleanliness, or mere comprehension, we can break the work down into ever-smaller steps.

And for these small steps, we need to know the moves involved (the choreography). We need to know how one note connects to the next. We need to know what success looks like.

Within these small challenges, we seek out the pace and work that takes all our focus and awareness. We can do it, but it’s not easy. We can do it only if we give our full attention.

Riding this wave – “I can do it, but it’s hard” – is the sweet spot. Sometimes it feels leagues from the final finished piece. Sometimes the steps forward are so small we question the whole affair.

But as long as we’re balancing on the edge of our abilities, we’re getting better.


“The sweet spot: that productive, uncomfortable terrain located just beyond our current abilities, where our reach exceeds our grasp. Deep practice is not simply about struggling; it’s about seeking a particular struggle, which involves a cycle of distinct actions.”

Daniel Coyle




allen mathews classical guitar

About Allen Mathews

Allen Mathews learned guitar as an adult, and has been a full-time guitar teacher for almost two decades to students age 4 to 96.  He has taught classical guitar at Reed College and Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon, and has been a guest lecturer and clinician at schools and universities throughout the U.S.  Allen is often praised for his creative teaching abilities, and his dedication to helping adults learn classical guitar.  He has a popular Youtube Channel offering regular classical guitar tutorials, and has gained fans worldwide for his weekly emails and articles at ClassicalGuitarShed.com.


I also want to thank you for including more video lessons on the Bridges Guitar Series. I have learned to play Calatayud's Waltz. The most exciting thing about having done this is that I sight read the entire piece as I was learning it. Six months ago looking at a sheet of music was like looking at Egyptian hieroglyphics. Learning to read notation is empowering and I appreciate the sensible way you are teaching us to learn to read music.


-Steve Simpler

I came on board three months ago and I’m loving it more than ever. I have maintained my practice pattern. I’m sticking wholeheartedly with the program as written. That makes it easy to see what I NEED to work on rather than just playing the shiny places I’ve gone beyond…..I’ve learned to focus 100% on what I’m doing that very minute….I’m developing strength in my left hand...I spend time with the videos in the evenings and always find something more to help me. I’m not looking for info anywhere else. Everything I need is right here in The Woodshed. You say “Jump” and I say “How high.” I’m so grateful I found you. You speak in a language I understand.


-Gloria Mader


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